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close this bookThe Courier N 130 Nov - Dec 1991 - Dossier: Oil - Reports: Kenya - The Comoros (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)
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View the documentMicroprojects gaining ground

Microprojects gaining ground

The idea of a new instrument of cooperation between the EEC and the ACP States was mooted during the Lom negotiations in 1974-1975 with the aim of launching small schemes in grass roots communities in the ACP countries - proof of the then realisation that, in development as in other fields, small projects ‘on a human scale’ sometimes offer better chances of success.

So microprojects came to life, ‘on an experimental basis’ when Lom took effect and subsequent Conventions have seen them confirmed as a major instrument of ACP-EEC cooperation. Projects qualify as microprojects, the present Convention says, if they have an economic and social effect on the life of the population, if they meet a priority need expressed and detected locally and if they are run on the initiative and with the involvement of the local community benefiting from them. The EDF contribution should, in theory, be no more than two thirds of the total cost of the project and no more than ECU 300 000. Decentralised decisions - they are taken in the EC Delegation - are a feature of the assessment process and an illustration of the flexibility which the Commission hoped to achieve in implementing this instrument.

Over the years, microprojects have become probably one of the most popular of Community aid instruments with the ACP populations. Schemes financed under the microproject heading usually provide the right sort of practical solutions to the local communities’ problems, but although they are of major importance in meeting the needs of the people, they still represent only a modest percentage of Community aid financing as a whole, with ECU 20 million committed under Lom, ECU 70 million under LomI and ECU 108 million under LomII (as of 30 September 1990).

Summary of microprojects

The Directorate-General for Development was anxious to promote and improve recourse to this instrument and therefore ran an evaluation destined to lead to a round table on microprojects and practical guidelines for LomV. However, budget limits were such that no assessments could be made in the field and work had to focus on the study and analysis of all existing documents and reports on microprojects (Lomonventions, microproject instructions, Court of Auditors’ reports, LomI and III microproject programme evaluation reports, periodic reports from Delegations, general and sectoral policy documents and so on). EC Delegations in the ACP countries received a detailed questionnaire and their replies were a helpful addition to the documentary study and the authors’ experience in the field.

The first job of the evaluation team was a statistical summary of the way microprojects had been used under the various Conventions, with the following main results.

- The number of countries using the instrument increased by 19% between Lom and LomI and dropped by 21% under LomII. Fewer programmes were run at this stage too. The reason for this is, partly, that in many countries, microprojects (a quarter of those recorded under LomII) were included in bigger programmes in focal areas and not therefore accounted for separately at central level.

- The EDF funds earmarked for microprojects went up by 253% between Lom and LomI and by 54% between LomI and LomII. The (fewer) programmes were therefore worth more money and the EDF contributions were also on the increase.

- The total amount channelled into microprojects was only about 2.5% of the project and programme aid under Lom11.

The sectoral breakdown of assistance was also summarised. The first sector emerged as being social infrastructure (schools, dispensaries, water supplies, housing etc), with 47.6% of the total, followed by agricultural development (improvement and diversification of production, fisheries, fish farming, small animals etc), with 18.4% of the total, economic infrastructure (storage, processing and marketing of agricultural produce, craft etc), with 12.3% and transport and communications infrastructure (roads and bridges etc), with 8.2%. Non-sectoral projects accounted for 4.8% of the total and the various back-up measures (technical assistance, logistical and administrative support, back up studies, contingency funds etc) for 8.7%.

Involving, backing up and training the recipients

Evaluation showed that the success of microprojects was to a large extent proportional to the recipients’ involvement. So getting the ultimate beneficiaries to take part in the various stages of the scheme is a basic factor of success. As soon as the project has been identified, the recipients ought to help gather and analyse the date whereby the problem(s) can be highlighted and solutions put forward. Rejection of or failure to understand an analysis may compromise a scheme even before it has begun. Their involvement will help ensure that the conception of the project is more in keeping with the context (in the choice of methods, level of financial contributions required, transfer of know-how etc) and they will be more motivated when it comes to making an actual, efficient contribution to running the scheme because they have helped with identification and design. While the project is running, a dialogue with the local communities will be the opportunity to review their responsibilities (contribution in cash or kind increased or decreased) in the light of their ability to stick to their commitments the recurrent costs which actually have to be covered. What it amounts to is being willing to define a proper area of negotiation on all the details of the projected scheme with the recipients.

For many local communities in the ACP States, microprojects are the first opportunity of access to aid and, even if the projects are run to their scale, these communities clearly need continuous support of a decent standard, which should, if possible, continue after the formal conclusion of the project itself.

The novelty of running grass roots schemes for many ACP authorities, the recipients’ lack of technical and management ability and the need for close support all mitigate in favour of a transfer of skills which is not always found in microproject implementation. This need for training is as obvious among the cadres managing projects and programmes as it is among the recipients for whom they are being run. The cadres need to learn about methods, identification, monitoring and evaluation and there are various ways of teaching them - local consultants, short-term experts, specialised local training institutions and centres, NGOs, study trips to neighbouring countries, regional seminars and so on. The recipients’ main need is for training in technical matters and the management of productive and/or commercial schemes or social infrastructure.

Autonomous local structures needed to coordinate and manage microproject programmes

A survey of Delegations revealed that the success of microprojects also very much depends on the identification and selection procedure, shortcomings at this stage being a major cause of failure in population-oriented projects. Practically speaking, a wide range of bodies are responsible for running microproject programmes in the different ACP States, from the most politically controlled to the most independent. If the general microproject criteria are to be adhered to, interference of any kind must be kept to the strictest minimum during the assessment period. Furthermore, management efficiency - from identification down to evaluation after completion - varies considerably with the type of body involved, which points up the importance of having (a) a proper local institutional framework whereby impartial project selection can be ensured and (b) efficient implementation and coordination machinery. So autonomous, local management-coordination units are vital for projects and programmes, as is more systematic recourse to contractual technical assistance (local or expatriate) of the most independent kind. If it is hoped to move from an artisanal to a more ‘professional’ stage in running these microprojects, then it is vital to have ways of giving the instrument more efficiency, more impact and more viability, particularly in the present and forthcoming context of structural adjustment.

Evaluation also showed that schemes should be approached in an integrated, multisectoral way which takes account of the global and often interconnected nature of the problems which local communities have to face. A search for complementarily between different schemes is recommended here.

The shortage of monitoring and technical support which often hampers microprojects is partly the result of the diversity of the assistance and the wide geographical area over which it is spread. Nonetheless, if the Lomhilosophy of microprojects is to be followed, it is fundamentally important to see that geographical spread reflects demand (i.e. with national programmes) and to have as wide a range of schemes as possible eligible under the microproject heading, without focusing on any one sector. It is only with some constraints (recurrent needs in a given sector or a demand for closer project monitoring, for example) and conditions that it is possible either to organise single-sector programmes focused on a particular type of scheme and keep a multisector programme or temporarily to concentrate schemes on a given region, with a decentralised unit of the management-coordination structure, and keep a national programme.

A strategy for LomV

The present situation suggests that microprojects differ from other development cooperation instruments in the quality of their impact. Often, as in the exceptional case of Zimbabwe, they are not content with a marginal situation and play a strategic part in ACP national development policies. Their strong point is, inter alia, their original approach based on local community initiative - an alternative to the trickle down approach often found in other types of scheme run in the ACP countries. The results (impact and acceptance by the people) are such that microprojects are one of the instruments which can bring about an appreciable improvement in the quality of Community development aid.

However, this means that they must soon attain a significant percentage of Community aid as a whole and cease to occupy such a small place. With this in mind, a round table of experts has recommended the Commission to give an extra dimension to the current microproject policy and devise a genuine strategy to encourage and support these schemes in the long and the medium term, in the light of the spirit of LomV, which encourages decentralised instruments of cooperation. They suggested that current microproject programmes be converted to larger programmes, particularly in this period of structural adjustment. Experience has indeed shown that, with a sustained effort over the years, microprojects will stimulate the local populations to produce and manage real dynamic development movements of their own. Needs in the sectors covered by the instrument are considerable and the development aid absorption potential in these schemes is very high.

So, with intensification in view and the possibility of means which really will make for coherent, efficient, long-term strategies, the Commission should be able to provide operational support with running the chosen policy. It should involve three main things - design, monitoring-evaluation and dissemination of information, all of which should be provided in a spirit of support for the heads of the various departments involved (geographical leaders, delegations, local microproject coordination-management units), which can adapt their recommendations to the specific situation with which they are faced. In view of the relatively complex nature of microproject programme implementation, the global approach has to be dynamic and evolutionary and encourage those ACP States which do not (yet) run microprojects to adopt and gradually use this instrument.

Francis DOUXCHAMPS